Ethiopia’s Tigray region bans Khat

By Prince Ofori-Atta

Banned in the United States, Canada, Uganda, and in some European countries, khat is exported to countries in the sub-region as well as the United Kingdom, which has been struggling to effect a ban. But despite its numerous economic advantages, the Ethiopian regime has frowned on the use of khat. The regional government of Ethiopia’s Tigray region has already banned the cultivation of the plant. They claim that khat has the potential of wrecking havoc to its social fabric.

This has given the impetus for raid on illegal khat operators in the East African country. Some operators are claimed to admit boys of school-going age into parlours where some engage in illicit trades of stolen goods. But a police clampdown in Addis Ababa neighbourhoods harbouring illegal operators have reportedly ignited much amusement as the stimulant leaf is readily available at most street corners in the capital.

The substance also known as celastrus edulis or catha edulis, a green stimulant leaf, popular in the horn of Africa and Yemen, is one of the main crops in the Hararge region of Ethiopia and said to fetch the agicultural sector millions of dollars. The crop earned Ethiopia some “sixty million US dollars between 1999 and 2000” alone, Dechassa Lemessa of the United Nations Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia confirmed to the BBC in 2002. Local khat growers are among some of the well-to-do farmers.

The crop, which needs little water to survive in an area best known for its long droughts, is traditionally believed to contain medicinal properties against ailments like asthma and gonorrhoea among others. However, although not a benign stimulant, khat has been criticised for dealing serious psychotic consequences to long-term users as well as being carcinogenic and addictive. Khat-chewers admit that it can trigger some sort of paranoia and constipation.

In some parts of the region, khat serves as a substitute for alcohol, which is banned by Islam.

Tsegaye HaileMariam, Addis Ababa’s city council head of justice and legal affairs has, reportedly, expressed his desire to have khat banned in Ethiopia. This follows an arduous quest by some British politicians to ban khat use and sale in the Untited Kingdom by supporting legislation to make it a classified drug. The substance, imported from Ethiopia, is sold in supermarkets across the UK.

If the ban on Khat the UK is obtained, Ethiopia’s agricultural sector could lose a lot in revenue, however, should Ethiopia make cultivation illegal, other countries in the sub-region might cease the opportunity to increase their output. So far, the only choice for the Ethiopian government is a controlled cultivation and use of the plant which has seen its use rise across the country.